The Pacific Northwest United Farm Workers headquarters in Hermiston applauded legislation introduced this week for provisions granting farm and agricultural workers a speedier path to citizenship.

“We’re very proud of the work that has been done for agriculture,” said UFW regional director Jorge Valenzuela. “This compromise allows for more protections for farm workers and establishes a stable agricultural workforce.”

UFW reached an agreement with growers last Friday on how to address farm workers in comprehensive immigration reform bill. It was introduced to the Senate Wednesday by the “Gang of Eight” — four Republican and four Democrat senators behind the 844-page bill.

Under the proposed legislation, workers will be allowed to apply for a limited number of “blue cards,” work visas exclusively for farm workers under the bill. To be eligible, they must work at least 100 days in a two-year period, have no felonies and less than three misdemeanors and pay a $400 fee.

To obtain permanent residency, the blue card holders must work in the fields for three to five years, depending on the amount of days worked in a year.

The bill would mean that farm workers with visas would have the ability to travel in and out of the country to visit family.

“This will allow for the reunification of many families,” said America Ramos through translation by Valenzuela. Ramos worked for Bolthouse Farms in Prosser, Wash., where she said the company let go of 160 workers.

“The employers are getting more and more scared of audits,” Ramos said.

Reyes Calvillo, who works at a Boardman dairy farm, said the proposed legislation for farm workers would ease a backlog in the current immigration process.

“People are waiting to obtain legal status for 20 years,” Calvillo said through Valenzuela’s translation.

In the talks leading up to the immigration reform bill’s introduction, growers pushed for lower wages and more visas while farm labor unions such as UFW pushed for better pay and longer-lasting visas.

Both sides came out saying it was a fair compromise, vastly different from their strife during the 1970s labor rights movement led by UFW founder Cesar Chavez.

“All have come together to endorse this agreement,” U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.), who brokered the talks between labor unions and growers, said in a statement.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold the first hearing for the bill today.

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Contact Natalie Wheeler at nwheeler@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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